North Mississippi Health Services pleads for more vaccinations as spread of Delta variant, healthcare worker shortage causes ‘dire situations’ at hospitals

TUPELO, Miss. (WCBI) – Monday, leadership for North Mississippi Health Services held a press conference at North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo to give the public an update about the impact that the COVID-19 Delta Variant is having across the state. “Right now what’s happening with COVID is, we so don’t want it to happen again but it’s here, it’s happening,” says NMHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jeremy Blanchard. As the Delta variant continues to spread rapidly across Mississippi, state hospitals are again feeling the strain of dealing with the sheer number of patients with limited resources.

“We are where we are today because of the lack of vaccinations,” says NMMC Tupelo President David Wilson. Because of the rise in COVID cases, NMHS has changed its visitation policy for its hospitals. Those changes include only allowing visitors 17 and older, no visitors for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients, except in end-of-life situations, but COVID patients with mental status or significant disabilities are allowed a family caregiver. “We’re urging the public to get vaccinated if not for themselves, then do it for a family member, do it for a loved one,” Wilson says.

NMHS President Shane Spees, Dr. Blanchard and Wilson led Monday’s press conference, once again calling on the public to get vaccinated and explaining the consequences if they do not. “The more we allow COVID to spread and spread more in the unvaccinated than vaccinated, the more variants we will face,” Dr. Blanchard says. “And we will have a virus in the future if we don’t get vaccinated, that will not be covered by these vaccines.” According to the Mississippi State Department of Health, there were still 28 hospitals with no ICU capacity and 42 ICU patients in emergency rooms waiting for inpatient rooms, as of July 30, 2021. NMHS officials say that the “dire situations” the Delta variant is creating at hospitals across the state is not due to a lack of beds but a lack of healthcare workers to staff them. “They have been in the trenches, if you will, for the last 18 months,” Spees says. “There’s a lot of wear and tear and burden with that.”

Many decided to retire due to the stress of the pandemic while others have taken more lucrative offers as travel nurses. The end result is an even worse healthcare worker shortage than in 2020. “Mask and social distance, please,” Dr. Blanchard says. “I know, I know it’s the pits. I hate it too, but it’s who we have to be if we care about others.” The NMHS team says that if Mississippi continues to resist vaccinations then residents can expect to see more masks and more hospitalizations in the coming months. “It’s not about choices, it’s not about any other personal beliefs, it’s about protecting each other,” Dr. Blanchard says. “I’m just asking you to care about me enough to mask, and your loved ones and the people around you, and most of all our children.” Dr. Blanchard also reiterated that while the fully vaccinated can contract and spread the Delta variant, the vaccine has close to a 96 percent protection rate from serious illness. “We’re committed to caring for our community,” Dr. Blanchard says. “We just need the community to care for itself.”

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